Cedar Key, Florida
Distance: 68 NM, Time Enroute: 20 minutes
By auto: 2:26 and 123 miles
Another one of our family’s favorite destinations in the Bonanza is Cedar Key, FL (KCDK), a small island community near the Big Bend area of the Florida Gulf Coast. This is one of those trips where it is definitely better to fly than drive. Flying direct is only 68nm and takes just 20 minutes or so. Driving takes 2.5 hours to cover the 123 miles. There is no easy way to drive to Cedar Key from the Orlando area.
Cedar Key is a quaint “Olde Florida” fishing town. It is unmarred by the unrestrained growth that has infected the Florida Keys, 283 nautical miles to the South. The town, about 6 blocks by 4 blocks, is one mile east of the airstrip. It offers waterfront bars, restaurants, art galleries and boutiques, all set on wooden pilings.
Each fall, at the beginning of stone crab season, the City sponsors a seafood festival, where local fisherman get the opportunity to showcase their product. On arrival, a flight over the town at 1000 MSL, or calling ahead on 122.8, summons the town’s only taxi cab to the airport for your trip into town. If you don’t arrive early, the minimal ramp space will be full and you will need to park in the sandspurs along the single runway.
The airstrip was built by the U.S. military in 1936, and was used as an air/sea rescue base during WWII. Cedar Key Airport is basically just a paved strip with no fuel or FBO services. The field, at 11 feet MSL, is only 2,355 feet in length. Of course, there is no tower, GPS approach, nor any visual aids like a VASI to help GA pilots land safely. Many flight schools will not permit rental aircraft into CDK without a checkout ahead of time.
Cedar Key rewards good pilot technique. But if you blow your approach by carrying a little too much speed, or staying too high on final, there is a go-around in your future. And everyone else will likely point and laugh. Or you could end up in the drink off the end of the RW like this poor guy:
After lunch overlooking the vast Gulf of Mexico and loading up the cooler with fresh Florida stone crab right off the docks, it is time to head for home. Short field technique is the order of the day. I taxi to the beginning of RW 23, making sure all 2355 feet are in front of me, to begin my take-off roll. Flaps are set to “approach” and I push the TCM IO-550 engine up to its max rated 300 hp, while standing on the brakes. Checking that all instruments are in the green, I release the brakes and focus on the airspeed indicator. There are no obstacles, so I fly in ground effect for a brief moment to build airspeed, then climb out at Vx and raise the gear. I am ever mindful of the granite monument on the departure end of RW23 that cautions VFR pilots to maintain their horizon. Many years ago an aircraft was lost as a VFR pilot took off over the Gulf into a hazy horizon, only to depart controlled flight after getting vertigo.
On departure from RW23, we turn left and cruise past the docks, climbing to 3,500 feet for the return back home. Now just where did I put that recipe for Joe’s Stone Crab mustard sauce?